The Five Immutable Rules of Tradeshow Sales

August 18, 2013

Adam Schaffer

Adam Schaffer is Vice President, Tradeshows and Exhibitions for HelmsBriscoe and a member of the IAEE Senior Executives Programming Task Force.

Ah yes, an exciting career in tradeshow sales.  Selling the power of your attendees, the excitement and buzz of the show and the opportunity to participate in THE marketplace for the industry … you can smell the jet fuel already.

… And then you get the client on the phone.

Sometimes the clients are sophisticated marketers that know exactly what they want.  Sometimes they need a little guidance and hand-holding – perhaps a reminder that your show is the one in March in Orlando.  And then there are those that can’t tell a 10 x 10 from a roll of carpet and you fear letting them anywhere near an operating forklift.

Well friends, after years of nose to the grindstone sales, team management and observation and NASA-level scientific research, I have determined that there are five rules of tradeshow sales that must be followed at all times:

-   Don’t lead with a discount.  You would be shocked how often your staff or colleagues are doing this, even if you don’t give discounts.  Try the inverse and remind customers that everything closer to the show gets more expensive including, with many shows, booth pricing.  Airfare, hotels, freight, electrical and A/V all will be vastly more expensive.  Yes, you have to sell them on the value of the show, but your customers want to lock in costs now, and not have surprises later.

-   Know the customer you are calling.  Again, shock and dismay echoes through sales offices everywhere as salespeople scramble to save a sale when they have led with the wrong pitch.   What does the customer do?  What do they make?  And … how does it fit into your show and buying audience? You can ‘connect the dots’ much easier if you take a few minutes to understand this before jumping on the phone.

-   Know the other events they are at.  Perspective is critical. Is the customer exhibiting at a competitive show?  If so, that requires special attention.  Are they a former exhibitor at your show?  If so, why did they leave and how was that handled?  You might have some bad blood to overcome.  And for true newbies, you know what kind of information they need – so lead with that.  In all cases, not knowing the event marketing buys of your client will destroy your credibility.

-   Know your product – cold.  Remember, the booth isn’t the product – the opportunity to engage with the buying audience is.   Introductory rates, audience demographics, show growth history, industry partnerships and media attention will be key pieces of information you need.  Perhaps most important, what companies competitive to the customer are exhibiting or not exhibiting?  That will drive the conversation.

-   Close the deal.  Okay, let’s all let out a collective “duh.”  Again, you would be surprised how often this slips through the cracks.  Shy of a signed application with payment, set a schedule for commitment.  If the customer is hung up on a certain location, ask them to commit to signing if you secure that location for them (then go buy your sales director a nice lunch).  Follow up with additional marketing materials, new press about the show, or exhibitors in their competitive set that sign on.  Always keep the conversations moving forward.

Remember, the easiest decision is not to go to the show – this might be a bad decision for the customer – but if your client likes Monday Night Football and isn’t fond of cold weather than you are up against more than you might realize.   Stay focused, keep the client focused … and invite them to watch the game with you after the opening reception.


Good selling!

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